Black Wolves zeroing in on a playoff bid

For the New England Black Wolves, it’s been a continual struggle to get to the .500 mark, as evidenced by last week’s 15-14 victory over Toronto, in danger of slipping away late.

“This year, we’ve had to fight for it a little harder than last year,” New England coach Glenn Clark said this week. “Last year, we were ahead of that .500 mark for the bulk of the season.”

But if there’s one thing that can dull the agony of an 0-3 start and the constant uphill crusade since then, it’s this: a playoff bid, a chance to replicate last season’s berth in the National Lacrosse League’s East Division finals or better it.

And, with four games to play in the regular season, the Black Wolves are getting close.

New England is 7-7 heading into tonight’s matchup with first-place Georgia (9-4), beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena. That gives the Black Wolves a one-and-a-half game lead over Buffalo (5-8) and a two-game edge over Rochester (5-9) for the final playoff spot in the East. The Wolves have games remaining with Georgia, Saskatchewan, Rochester and Vancouver.

They are 1-2 against Georgia this season, with a 13-8 victory over the Swarm on March 12.

New England is 4-1 to start the second half of the season after consecutive road losses to Rochester, Colorado and Georgia to start the season.

“We had an 0-3 hole. Then the 3-6 (record) was the big one,” Clark said. “We’re 4-1 the last five games, but if you drop two of those, you’re 3-8. You’re out. You could easily fade away from the pack.”

Last Sunday against Toronto, the Black Wolves led 13-8 with 11 minutes, 33 seconds to play on a goal by Kyle Buchanan. The Rock, however, scored three goals in the final 2:11, pulling their goalie in favor of an extra attacker. The Wolves survived by getting a goal of their own in the Rock’s empty net, allowing for the one-goal victory, making New England 5-2 in one-goal games this season.

Goalie Evan Kirk tied his own franchise record with 56 saves.

Clark said the Wolves’ usual man-down defense involves Derek Searle, who was serving a suspension during the game, and Brett Manney, who is out with a lower body injury.

“It was almost like a perfect storm,” Clark said. “They were scoring on the 6-on-5 and then they were winning the face-off and getting back-to-back possessions. It was a bit of an unusual finish, but we’re happy we came out on the right end of it. We still found a way to hang on and got ourselves back to .500 … which has been a pretty good accomplishment.

“Making the playoffs will take the sting off the beginning of the season. Getting in is step one. You want to go in winning your way in. You sorta have to go one step at a time.”

The Black Wolves are led in scoring by Kevin Crowley (33 goals, 33 assists), who had two goals and three assists in last week’s game against Toronto, and Shawn Evans (31 goals, 50 assists), who had his fourth straight hat trick against the Rock. Kirk leads the NLL with 564 saves.

Georgia is led by Lyle Thompson (32 goals, 52 assists), Jordan Hall (15 goals, 47 assists) and Shayne Jackson (29 goals, 25 assists). The Swarm are coming off a 21-13 win over Colorado last Saturday.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

 

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